DETROIT (Reuters) - U.S. and Canadian dealers on Monday began ordering 2015 Ford Motor Co F-150 pickup trucks, which are lighter than earlier models, priced higher and include additional standard features, the company said.
The launch of the new trucks with aluminum bodies is key for Ford as the F-150 pickups have been the best-selling vehicles in North America for 36 years and are profit centers for the No. 2 U.S. automaker.
The vehicle is on its way to continuing that streak this year.
Ford Chief Executive Mark Fields said last week the rollout of the new trucks was on target for first sales late this year, and he was confident they would launch without quality problems sometimes associated with new vehicles.
The base, or non-luxury, models - the XL work truck and the most popular version the XLT - will see prices rise $395 over F-150 pickups currently on sale. The XL base price will be $26,615 including destination charges, and the XLT will begin at $31,890.
Together, these two versions will account for up to 70 percent of F-150 sales, said company spokesman Mike Levine.
Levine said the higher prices were due to additional standard features in all five trim levels of the F-150, and not because of the greater cost of aluminum over steel.
The Lariat, the lowest priced of the luxury F-150s, begins pricing at $39,880, up $895. Levine said this version includes an eight-inch LCD screen and a rear-view camera as standard equipment.
The two highest-priced versions saw the biggest price increases. The King Ranch F-150 rose $3,615 to $49,460, and the Platinum version rose $3,055 to $52,155.
Mark Smith, president of Dick Smith Ford in Raytown, Missouri near Kansas City, said on Monday that customers were at first skeptical of the aluminum truck.
"As time has gone by and people have read more about the aluminum truck, apprehension has turned into excitement," said Smith.
Early Monday, Smith said he and his sales staff were studying the new offerings and had yet to make any orders for new trucks.
Still, Smith said falling gasoline prices boded well for pickup truck sales.
The national average price for regular gasoline is $3.52 per gallon, 16 cents less than a month ago, and in the Kansas City area are under $3.10 per gallon for regular, from $3.40 per gallon a month ago, according to the AAA travel group.
The aluminum alloy body on the new trucks makes them up to 700 pounds lighter, which will allow for greater fuel efficiency, but Ford has yet to announce fuel economy ratings.
(Reporting by Bernie Woodall; Editing by Bernadette Baum)